Civil Disobedience and the Ending of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
On The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Author: Robert C. Evans
From: Civil Disobedience, Bloom's Literary Themes
In the simplest sense, any act of civil disobedience is rooted in a prior act of obedience to individual conscience. Persons who choose to disobey the laws of their lands or the moral teachings of their culture do so because they feel an obligation to higher kinds of law or to superior sorts of ethics, whether those are rooted in religious belief, natural "instincts," or some profound sense of sympathy or empathy for others. Conscience, then, is key: The person who practices civil disobedience obeys his own conscience, instead of society's conscience. And—just as significantly—he does so not primarily on his own behalf but on behalf of his unselfish allegiance to others or to some lofty moral principle. His chief commitment is not to himself, but to someone or something more important, such as God, other persons, or an ethical ideal.
Viewed in these terms, Mark Twain's novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn presents a number of characters who are capable of genuine civil disobedience and a number who are not. Huck and Jim, obviously, do possess this capacity; Huck's father, the Duke and the Dauphin, and (more ambiguously) Tom Sawyer do not. The famous scene in which, after much agonizing, Huck decides not to obey the conventional morality of his culture—which would dictate that he report the location of Jim, the runaway slave, to Miss Watson, Jim's owner—but instead decides to obey his own humane impulses (269–71), is a prime example of Huck's capacity for ideal civil disobedience. The Duke and Dauphin, on the other hand, never act from anything other than selfish motives. They break many laws and violate many standards of civil behavior, but they never do so on behalf of any principle higher than personal self-interest. Tom...